Winds of change - Nosheen Saeed - Monday, April 04, 2011

It’s heartening that the quote “Change occurs when the pain of remaining the same is greater than the pain of changing” is gaining relevance amongst Pakistanis across-the-board. Two significant developments that interrupted the normal course of action by Pakistani legislators can be seen as signs of hope and change.

First, the protest and walkout of opposition lawmakers as soon as the president rose to address the joint sitting – simply refusing to listen to the head of state who had nothing tangible to offer: no vision, no strategy, no sense of direction, only lip service without commitment, hollow slogans without truth and empty promises that outrun performance – was hailed as a positive and refreshing move. For the first time the opposition presented itself as a harmonious whole having will and purpose. This suggests that in future smooth sailing would be a still more distant dream for the government and its much propagated policy of reconciliation now kaput.

Second, ten members of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms that prepared the 18th Amendment draft bill with consensus, incorporating 100 recommendations to restore the 1973 Constitution, refused to receive the Nishan-e-Imtiaz award from President Zardari. The special ceremony was held at the Presidency to confer civil and military awards on outstanding citizens for their accomplishments. Those who declined to receive the award included Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan, Ahsan Iqbal, Sen Ishaq Dar, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Sen Abdul Malik, Sen S M Zafar, Sen Shahid Hassan Bugti, and Sen Nawabzada Mir Haji Lashkari Raisani of the PPP.

Their absence demonstrated a complete breakdown of trust in President Zardari’s leadership, the demise of collaboration and consensus decision-making within the country and the overall erosion of confidence in the government’s policies.

In recent days, Pakistanis witnessed deliberate deceptiveness by the government. While claiming that parliament is supreme, it imposed new taxes worth billions through a presidential order, which opposition leaders consider illegal, undemocratic and unconstitutional. PML-N spokesman Ahsan Iqbal went to the extent of saying that the president should approve the budget through a presidential order too.

While stating that every state institution, including the judiciary, should be respected, the government incited the people of Sindh to hold protest demonstrations, made a call for a strike and a sit-in in front of the Sindh High Court building, all against the Supreme Court’s declaring the NAB chief Deedar Hussain Shah’s appointment illegal. The PPP’s strike call was unmistakably an attempt to fan provincialism and trigger anger against the judiciary in Sindh, and a scheme to cause bedlam in the province, which resulted in incidents of gunfire, vehicles being set ablaze and loss of innocent lives. Where in the world do sitting governments fuel anarchy?

Furthermore, a resolution was encouraged in the Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assemblies for the condemnation of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. The leader of the opposition in the National Assembly had filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the appointment of Deedar Hussain Shah as NAB chairman. This raising of the flag of confrontation was a clear negation of the government’s much trumpeted policy of reconciliation.

Pakistanis continue witnessing diversionary tactics designed to deceive, baffle and distract public attention from the country’s current problems. The tactic include confusing statements on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, reopening of the case of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, deliberate attempts to alienate coalition partners and then spending weeks to win them back.

The boisterous tirade of Sindh interior minister Zulifiqar Mirza against the MQM; theatrical ruckus in and lota match outside the Punjab Assembly, was more of a smokescreen to divert public and media attention. While the confusion prevailed, new taxes were levied through a presidential ordinance and Raymond Davis was released.

Then we have the grand strategy of appeasement of the West, issuing visas without proper documentation, Blackwater agents getting visas through the Pakistani embassy in the UAE, the Raymond Davis case. To advance its goals, the government made efforts to use the PML-Q against the PML-N, tried manipulation of political puppets depending on their intended use, and bribed legislators to switch sides and cast votes in favour of the government stance. The government’s horse-trading was exposed in the joint session of parliament. The lotas remote-controlled by the PPP were out in the open.

Such acts have further eroded citizens’ trust and confidence and led many to believe that Pakistan is being trapped in a downward spiral. Pakistanis seem petrified of the consequences which they believe will not only de-emphasise national security and countrywide priorities but shift the government’s focus and energy on concocting more crafty designs for its survival.

Interestingly, a lady legislator impressed by President Zardari’s knowledge of history is going about quoting the president as having said: “I have vast space like Russia available to me; whenever threatened, I keep on withdrawing, leaving the ‘scorched earth’ in front of my enemies, who while trying to reach me will tire out ultimately, and I plan to deal with them when they exhaust. Then like Russia I shall be victorious.” It seems our knowledgeable president forgets the role winter played in Russian history.

When those in the corridors of power spend all their energies in laying traps of deception to wear out and fool their own people, then naturally they will be unreceptive to national sovereignty and public welfare, and they will fail miserably to ensure basic security, essential services and economic opportunities. An ineffective vision may be worse than no vision at all.

The root causes of all evils in society, and behind every crisis and conflict, are due to poor governance, widespread poverty and weak economic growth. Any government that fails to establish policies, strengthen institutions and reinforce governance reforms is sure to ride on a tide of discontent. Undoubtedly, the three year Zardari rule is the worst in history and Pakistan is suffering like it’s never suffered before.

Perhaps it’s time for Pakistan’s allies to realise that that the current government has failed on all fronts and any more support given would be tantamount to their going against the welfare and well-being of Pakistanis. The US has become extremely unpopular in Pakistan because people feel that since this is a US-backed government Washington is responsible for their misery and plight.

The writer is information secretary of the women’s wing of the PML Email:

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